Brett McCormick’s Unlikely First Season in the AMA
Brett McCormick’s first season in the AMA American Superbike Series could definitely be classified as a learning experience, one that featured the highs (10 top 10 finishes) and lows (5 sub-15 results) normally associated with a rookie campaign.
The results may have been relatively ordinary, but the path he took to achieve them was anything but.
Unexpected is the best word one could use to describe the route McCormick’s season took after the opener at Daytona in early March.
McCormick was in Florida due, in part, to the deteriorating situation going on with the Parts Canada Superbike Championship which saw two of its bedrock manufacturers (Yamaha and Suzuki) withdraw their support for the series following the 2009 season, and a third (Kawasaki), downsize and outsource the operation of its factory team.
Things looked so bleak last winter that even the series defending champion, Jordan Szoke, was forced to start his own team after being unable to come to terms on a new deal with the team he’d just won his fourth consecutive title with (Kawasaki).
For McCormick, who finished a mere five points behind Jordan Szoke in the 2009 Parts Canada Series, the decision to ply his trade in the U.S. was made somewhat easier after Suzuki Canada elected to shut down its factory team for 2010 and parted ways with his team, Picotte Performance and Blackfoot Motorsports.
With all of the upheaval going on in the Canadian scene, McCormick decided to explore his options Stateside. He travelled to Florida with a self-funded team – with some assistance from Picotte – and 2009 Suzuki machinery.
At Daytona, the 18 year-old struggled in the first American Superbike race. He completed only four laps on his Suzuki GSXR-1000 due to a mechanical problem and finished 20th in a 22-rider field. Things took a significant turn for the better, however, in the Saturday race when he recorded an eighth place result.
Despite crashing in the marquee Daytona 200 later that night, McCormick ran in the top five for much of the race – he was fifth when the crash occurred on lap 32, resulting in a 27th place finish.
These results would turn out to be fortuitous for the Saskatoon native, because his potential caught the eye of Celtic Racing, a smaller team embarking on its first season of AMA Pro Racing.
They signed McCormick for the second round at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. in late March, and he turned in two solid results – a 12th place finish in the first race and an impressive seventh place in race number two.
While McCormick was turning in good performances for Celtic, another twist of fate was playing out which would alter the trajectory of his season entirely.
During morning practice prior to Sunday’s race, Jordan Suzuki rider Aaron Yates crashed and fractured his leg in two places, an injury which would sideline him for most of the rest of the season.
With a seat open on one of the more accomplished teams in the paddock – owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan – McCormick’s strong showing took on new significance.
In the days following the California round, McCormick tested with the Jordan team for two days at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and in early April, an agreement was reached. McCormick signed on as a replacement rider on the no. 23 Suzuki machine until Yates was medically cleared to return.
McCormick struggled initially in his first couple of outings with Jordan at Road Atlanta (16th and 17th) and Infineon (21st and 13th), but the young rider broke through with two top ten results at Road America in June (9th and 8th).
These finishes would mark the beginning of a run of seven consecutive top ten results, a string that wouldn’t be broken until the first race at New Jersey Motorsports Park in September.
In all, McCormick acquitted himself quite well in 2010. His 10 top 10 finishes (including two fifth place results and a season-best fourth at VIR) propelled him to a ninth place finish in the final standings, and put him in a good position for the 2011 AMA season, although he had not officially announced his plans for next year at press time.
Sometimes opportunities really do go to those who are in the right place at the right time. Talent and skill are vital to long-term success, but can languish if they aren’t put to proper use.
If Yates hadn’t been injured, McCormick wouldn’t have had the opportunity to race for a top flight team, showcase his skills and get himself noticed in the AMA paddock had he stayed with Celtic Racing for the entire season.
While he surely wouldn’t have chosen the circumstances under which to make his debut, the chance to ride for Jordan Suzuki was simply too good to pass up – regardless of how it came to be, it was an opportunity McCormick had to jump on.
At 19, McCormick is in the early days of what should be a long career, but one day he might view the events at Fontana in March 2010 as a turning point in his upward ascent.
While Yates’ injury was definitely unfortunate, it was an unexpected opportunity for McCormick – one he made the most of.